Let’s Read Again!

May 12, 2014Wayétu Moore

This post is authored by Wayétu Moore, founder and publisher of One Moore Book. Learn more about her innovative program on CEI.

My name is Wayétu Moore and I am the founder and publisher of One Moore Book. I am a writer who, after moving to New York following graduate school, realized that as a female writer, a black writer and an African writer in the larger literary industry, there were expectations that were seldom aligned with what I knew to be true of my culture, race, and gender. I did not have a cannibalism story to sell. I desired more to unnerve and dissect how my cross-cultural identity of “Liberian” and “American” surfaced throughout my childhood. Luckily I was raised with parents who taught me to interact with life not as though I had stumbled upon it or as though it had happened to me, but as if it had been purposefully sought for and found, and in that discovery I demand to exist with purpose.  So how could literature be purposeful? How could it serve the stories often in the backdrop? This was the seed of One Moore Book

In 2010, students at Saint Mary’s College in California compared U.S. population data with books by and about kids of color. They used data from the U.S. Census and Cooperative Children’s Book Center and found that minority children were grossly underrepresented in children’s literature. Blacks made up 12.6% of the population that year but only 4% of children’s books were about them. Hispanics made up 16.3% of the population but only 1.9% of books were about them.

This national trend is even more profound internationally, since many books used by classrooms in developing countries are from the West. Although helpful, the books (like most literature from the West) mimic western culture and narratives.  The result is that elementary-aged children, many of whom have never even seen white faces, are really fighting for a dual competency when they open up these donated books.  The first struggle is of course to gain competency in the letters, sounds and grammar of the English language. The second effort is the conceptualization of western culture and physical characteristics - from the color and texture of the main character's hair to the shapes of their faces and bodies. The most important support a child can be given to ensure the successful management of their future is literacy, and how powerful, how much more confident would that child be if the literature he or she reads reflects his or her truth, his or her story, his or her name, his or her country? It does, at least in my experience, assist with their engagement and investment in literature, if there is some cultural relevancy.

One Moore Book publishes and distributes culturally sensitive literature for children from countries with low literacy rates and underrepresented cultures. Our books also serve the dual purpose of exposing children in the United States to different cultures. We publish in series and since launching in 2011, we have published three full series and one feature for the children of Liberia, Haiti and Guinea. The Haiti Series included the second children’s book of American Book Award winner, one of my favorite writers, Edwidge Danticat. Danticat also guest-edited the series.

We believe that for introductory readers from developing countries, what will help their process is if they are provided literature with food, places, people and narratives that they recognize. This was evident for me in a recent trip to Liberia. Each child in a classroom at one Johnsonville Elementary School was given a culturally-relative book titled, I Love Liberia. They read the title and all initially giggled, as if even reading such a thought on the face of a children’s book was so different to them that it was absurd. As we read together through the book, verbally navigating the foods that they were raised to eat, I was inspired to see that when cultural idiosyncrasies arose in the text, they looked up at me and smiled. It did not take us long to finish, but immediately after a young girl in the front row looked at me and whispered: “Let’s read again.”

Since $10-$12 is a lot for the majority of people in our featured countries to spend on a book, for every three books we sell, we donate one to a child in the featured country through a non-profit partnership. One Moore Book has published 19 books to date and since launching in 2011, over 4,000 books have been donated to children in our featured countries.

In this year while we increase marketing efforts and target Ministries of Education, NGOs and other organizations, while we continue packing our book donations in suitcases with family and friends headed to Liberia and in the bathtub of the LitWorld office at 57th street to await the next traveler to fly to Haiti, we hope to learn and grow into (hopefully) the best and most efficient version of ourselves. What I have taken away from the testimonies that travel back to me, and from my own experiences in the classrooms that have benefited from One Moore Book, is that culturally sensitive literature is not a supplementary proposition. It is essential. Success is rooted in self-confidence and a sense of belonging to this world. And what better way to show a child the permanence and importance of their histories and lives, than through a book.

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